The red-billed quelea destroy crops worth over $22million every year!
The quelea belongs to the weaverbird family and is found throughout Africa’s dry regions, south of Sahara Desert. It is sparrow-sized with a strong red beak. It is the most abundant bird species.
The quelea weaves a spherical nest from strips of grass, with an entrance hole on one side. A unique feature about the nest-building is that all the male queleas in a colony begin to construct their nests at the same time and very close to one another. A large colony can consist of several million nests packed into a few acres of dense thorn bushes or elephant grass. The eggs are laid even before the nests are complete.
The breed is remarkably synchronised. Nearly all the eggs hatch at the same time, within the same few days, so that millions of young birds finally quit the colony altogether. In all their activities, the queleas move together. Whether it is feeding, drinking or migrating over long distances, the birds fly in close formation. They sleep in immense communal roosts, crammed tightly together into a small area. Predators are simply swamped and outnumbered so that very few fledglings are lost.
As agricultural pests, queleas are unrivalled among birds. The damage they cause to cereal crops like rice, wheat, sorghum and millet in Africa is so devastating that many small farmers lose an entire year’s food supply. An individual bird ruins 10g of food a day, eating 3g and preventing the rest from growing.
Farmers in Africa have tried to control the quelea, but with limited success. Around 1000 million birds are killed every year, using flamethrowers, dynamite bombs and aerially sprayed poisons on nesting sites. Some farmers employ small boys to guard the fields and frighten off the birds with drums, rattles, and flashing tins.